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Progressive Rock CD Reviews

Kerry Livgren

Prime Mover II

Review by Scott Prinzing

It can be argued that after Kerry Livgren left Kansas in 1983, the band was never the same.  Kansas produced a few enjoyable - if inconsistent - albums with Steve Morse on guitar; a few with Rich Williams handling all guitars himself; and one with Livgren back at the helm on guitar and as sole songwriter and keyboardist.  The highpoints (no disrespect to Morse intended; he was hamstrung by label demand for radio-friendly material) include the Livgren-penned material on the live albums; “Cold Grey Morning” (the one Livgren composition on Freaks of Nature); and the 2000 release, Somewhere to Elsewhere, with Livgren in command.  Livgren’s post-Kansas albums on the other hand, seemed to just get better and better.  With one exception, 1988’s Prime Mover.  The final of four releases by Livgren’s band AD, it only included the maestro himself and singer Warren Ham.  That album was loaded with great songs and great performances by those two, but due to time and funding, Livgren was reduced to replacing former Kansas bassist Dave Hope and drummer Dennis Holt with programmed bass and drums.  The result was an album that sounded like a high quality ’80s demo; albeit with superb guitar and vocals.

With this release, Livgren decided to upgrade the instrumentation.  He re-recorded the bass and drums himself (although the drums are sampled sounds, he “played” them).  The sound is much improved, making this a much better album.  I miss the contributions of second singer/keyboardist/guitarist/songwriter Gleason, but AD’s previous album didn’t include Ham at all, so I guess it balances out.  So, not only does Livgren write all but one song, he plays guitars, keyboards, drums and bass.  Oh, and he produces and engineers everything; and does the cover art!  Good thing he’s only relegated to background vocals, because Warren Ham is an amazing singer, as well as sax, flute and harmonica player (he augmented Kansas on the Vinyl Confessions tour).  Ham and Gleason were two of the three finalists for replacing Steve Walsh in Kansas; John Elefante got the job, so when Livgren recorded his second solo album, he recruited those two.  It evolved into the band AD.  Eventually, Livgren went solo.  This album went from being his weakest to one of his best. Ironically, while researching info for this review, I learned that Livgren was apparently still unsatisfied with the final product and fine-tuned it once again a decade later as Prime Mover: Redux.  The primary difference is that the new album has a real bass player, and real brass and woodwinds.  I imagine the overall sound has improved a bit, but this version is more than acceptable to this listener’s ears.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2013  Volume 2 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Track by Track Review
Out of Opus
The album opens with a minute-long instrumental that sounds like a Baroque chamber orchestra.  The melody is based on the middle instrumental passage of “Portrait.”  It is very cool.
Portrait II
I remember when the original version of this song came out on KansasPoint of Know Return in 1977 I thought it sounded as if it could be about Jesus.  Livgren made it clear in interviews that it was about Albert Einstein. When I saw AD for the second time in ’85, they included this song with its rewritten lyric, making it about Jesus after all.  Ham sang it at that show, as well. It’s still a very cool song, albeit not quite as rocking as the original. This is actually a totally new recording.
Don’t Pass Me By
This positive and upbeat song sounds like it could have had crossover potential if Kansas had released it in its more commercial Elefante days.  Ham’s flute playing has a bit of a jaunty Calypso feel to it.  It rhetorically asks if you are your brother’s keeper: “So he’s a little behind the race, as long as he can place it’s alright / Before he walks he’s got to stand, just take him by the hand and lead him home.”
Fathers and Sons
Livgren does a great job of creating the rhythm section himself, with punchy bass and drums.  Ham’s bouncy flute is interspersed between vocal sections.  When the guitar solo comes, it’s pretty cool to realize that Livgren is the entire band here – and what a rocking one at that!  There’s a bit of an anti-war message: “The nations rage and yet they’re falling apart / Their walls and weapons won’t conquer the heart.”
Incantos

This song is unlike any I’ve heard Livgren do.  It has a very Renaissance feel to it, with an all acoustic approach (a bit like Blackmore’s Night).  The entire lyric was written on a napkin during dinner at a restaurant: “When I was young and world was old / I saw through eyes of light / These wonders will not cease until / The years have claimed my sight.”

I’ll Follow You
Michael Gleason contributed this song, showing how in-sync he and Livgren were in this band.  This song was entirely re-recorded as well.  It’s a mid-tempo rocker with a catchy chorus: “I’ll follow you…”  It could almost have been an outtake from KansasVinyl Confessions or Drastic Measures (Ham was in the touring band for the former; Gleason in the latter).
Fair Exchange
You might recognize this song from KansasVinyl Confessions.  Good job paying attention!  Ham auditioned for Kansas to the first recorded version of this song.  He ended up contributing harmonica to the original released version of it; he outdoes himself here.  This song did not appear on the original release of this album, but Livgren wanted to include it here.  The lyrics have a bit of Orwell’s 1984 to them: “You’re on file, our computer / Knows what’s best for you / We will provide the solution / For the rest of you.”
New Kind of Love
The lyrical approach to this song is rather creative.  In trying to describe the “New kind of love / Coming down from heaven above,” Livgren basically provides a list of adjectives which Ham does an impressive job or evoking though a variety of creative vocalizations: “Unfailing, always faithful / Travailing, unconditional / Mysterious, possessing / Protecting, caressing.”
Brave Hearts
Starting with a keyboard “trumpet” solo, this song is unlike just about anything that Livgren has done.  It has a guitar pattern that is reminiscent of something from Seeds of Change, but developed from a leftover idea from his Mind’s Eye soundtrack album.  It has a dark foreboding sound that matches the lyrics.
Wandering Spirit
This is the most fast-paced song on this album, resulting in one of the best guitar solos here.  The lyric is one of the most direct Christian messages on the album, though. So, while it has great commercial potential, it probably wouldn’t have received much airplay beyond contemporary Christian radio.
One More Song
This song reminds me of a few of the piano-based ballads on Vinyl Confessions.  All the instruments were re-recorded here, with the addition of acoustic guitar. 
Item 89
An unfinished song that was originally intended for the 1988 album, Livgren found it on a cassette tape and worked it up for this album.  It has a more blues feel to it during the verses, not unlike Kansas’ “Stay out of Trouble” (which he didn’t actually write).  Ham’s harp is featured nicely in between vocal lines like, “It’s safe and it’s easy to dwell in the past / But the face in the mirror is new, every day.”
Children of the Shadows
This song has a grand orchestral section in the middle that underscores Livgren’s piano work. The chorus is very memorable and receives a majestic treatment.  Again, it sounds like a song that could have been on Vinyl Confessions.
T.G.B.
Although this track’s title stands for “Texas Gospel Blues,” it is more like a very progressive song that draws from blues and gospel.  I first heard it when I saw AD on tour for its second album, Art of the State.  It really showcases Ham’s vocals, as well as provides opportunities for his harmonica and Livgren’s guitar to let go and jam a bit. “Don’t wait till it’s over.”
 
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